Wolf vetoes GOP liquor privatization bill for Pennsylvania
July 2, 2015 11:32 PM
Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board
Gov. Tom Wolf said he is open to expanding the availability of wine and beer into more locations, such as supermarkets.
By Karen Langley / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf said he vetoed legislation that would close the state’s liquor stores and permit private sales because it was not a “responsible means” of overhauling Pennsylvania’s liquor system and because it would hit Pennsylvanians in the pocketbook.
“It makes bad business sense for the Commonwealth and consumers to sell off an asset, especially before maximizing its value,” Mr. Wolf said. “During consideration of this legislation, it became abundantly clear that this plan would result in higher prices for consumers.”
The push to undo the state’s business in alcohol has been greatest in the House, where Republicans were “obviously very disappointed” with the governor’s decision, said Steve Miskin, the spokesman for House Republicans. The changes proposed by the bill were projected to generate more than $200 million in new revenue in its first year, and Mr. Miskin said that money could have been directed to public schools, a priority for Mr. Wolf.
“In his quest to just raise taxes on Pennsylvanians and employers, and his protection of special interests, he is vetoing very good legislation to get us out of the liquor business, which we shouldn’t be in,” Mr. Miskin said.
Another Republican objective, a bill to end the traditional defined-benefit pension for most future state and public school workers, remains on Mr. Wolf’s desk.
The liquor legislation was one of three vetoes announced Thursday by the governor’s office.
Mr. Wolf also rejected two budget-related bills, the fiscal code and the school code, vetoes that had been anticipated after the governor said Tuesday night that he would stop the GOP-crafted state budget from becoming law.
Mr. Wolf claimed the budget did not balance and that it would have spent too little on education. Republicans said that his proposals — including a severance tax on natural gas to fund education and increases in the sales and personal income taxes to provide property tax relief — lacked support.
With no state budget in place, staff from the administration and the General Assembly are scheduled to begin talks again Monday.
Handing over the wine and spirits business to the private sector has been a goal of Republicans, including the previous governor, Tom Corbett. The House approved a privatization bill in 2013 and again earlier this year. The bill sent to Mr. Wolf, a product of negotiations between House and Senate Republicans, was unveiled Sunday and sent to the governor Tuesday.
The bill would have created permits allowing beer distributors and holders of restaurant licenses, including some grocery stores, to sell wine and liquor to go. As private sellers began operating, the state Liquor Control Board would have been instructed to close nearby state liquor stores.
The state’s wholesale operation would have been leased and then sold.
Mr. Wolf said in his statement Thursday that he is open to making wine and beer available in more locations, such as supermarkets.
Democrats have opposed the privatization efforts, citing the state jobs provided by the liquor stores. They have also warned that prices would rise as private businesses sought profit.
Instead, Democrats, including Mr. Wolf, have proposed “modernizing” the state business through changes such as giving the Liquor Control Board more flexibility with prices and allowing state stores to operate for more hours on Sundays.
Wendell Young, president of UFCW Local 1776, which represents workers in the state stores, said in a statement that Mr. Wolf had made a responsible decision.
Karen Langley: email@example.com, 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley.
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